Ten-Buck Lunch: Sagano Sushi

$10, three courses, a good deal

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By David Hammond

You can have $10 lunches all over our village, particularly if you want to eat a quick-service hamburger or slice of pizza.

But for that kind of big money, you can do better.

I'm starting to collect the names of places in Oak Park where you can get value for your ten-spot – places like Sagano Sushi.

For lunch, Sagano has a range of "bento boxes" for exactly $10.

I was really hoping my food would arrive at the table in an actual bento box, with food items artistically arranged as is customary in Japan when presenting bento boxes. Unfortunately, at Sagano the name "bento" apparently refers just to the fact that the lunch foods served there would be the sort of thing you'd traditionally find in this classic Japanese lunch bucket.  I was a little disappointed, but I had to remind myself: we're talking about a ten-buck lunch here.

I had the udon noodles bento box, which kicked off with a bowl of miso soup and a salad, with sides of several different types of tempura. I chose shrimp and vegetable.

With a meal like this, you get a lot of value and a lot of warm liquid.  I'm guessing Sagano did not sell a lot of this type of bento box over our recent triple-digit summer. As the weather gets cooler, however, having two bowls of soup for lunch is not an unattractive option.

The udon noodles were just fine, with an uncomplicated broth and a modicum of slightly chewy rice noodles. The tempura was a generous quantity of mixed vegetable (broccoli, asparagus, onion and zucchini) and three shrimps. The fried tempura coating was perhaps not as fine as you might expect at some sushi place on the north side of Chicago, but it was freshly done and not bad, not bad at all…and, you know, ten bucks.

One of my favorite movies of the past year was "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (available on Netflix), a story about a sushi chef who was awarded three Michelin stars (the highest rating) for his eight-seat sushi bar in a Tokyo train station.  Jiro probably doesn't dream of the kind of sushi they serve at Sagano, but then again, Sagano doesn't charge $300, as Jiro does. At $10, for effectively three courses, Sagano's bento box is a good deal and for a value like that, I can accept even unsmiling, no-eye-contact service.

I recently had much more sophisticated version of the bento box at Chicago's BOKA (1729 N. Halsted). Just as Sagano's was a fairly stripped-down and boxless version of this classic Japanese food delivery system, BOKA's presentation was at the opposite end of the spectrum and featured oyster, compressed avocado, watermelon terrine and hamachi -- it was pretty spectacular...and it came in a laquered box. The menu price for this meal was, of course, signficantly more than $10, but you get what you pay for.

This article has been updated from a previous version. The original caption with this photo said the bento box was from Sagano Sushi, which is incorrect - this image was taken at BOKA. Wednesday Journal regrets the error. 


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